My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“And still the sky is beautiful.” (p26)
If there’s a phrase that sums this book up for me, and perhaps Code Name Verity too (which I reviewed here) it is this phrase, this poetic and graceful phrase that sings from the page. There’s something in the way both books look upwards, finding freedom, finding equality, finding hope even in the skies.
We are more than we ever think we are.
Rose discovers this about herself throughout Rose Under Fire. Through circumstance, through action, she finds herself in the darkest of places and she must survive for she has a story to tell.
Set after Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire provides the next part of the story for certain characters in that book. It also provides mild spoilers for Code Name Verity so I’d suggest reading that first if you’re anything like me. Whilst there could be an issue in returning to the scene of the crime (as it were), Wein handles this continuation very well. She closes the story and opens another, and perhaps eases us through the utter loss that Code Name Verity caused. She does this by this closeness, this reminder that pain and heartbreak was not something you escaped from in this war. It was not something that happened to a friend of a friend. It happened to everyone. That tightness, that narrative woven from the darkness of war, the way it is almost inescapable is very very cleverly done.
What shines here as well is the voice of Rose. She grows, unfurls, and then shrinks back inside of herself, recoiling at the horrors she is experiencing. That second unfurling, that coaxing out, that rediscovery of herself and that she still exists and that she *is* Rose Justice, is something that is heartbreaking and beautiful and viciously emotional to bear witness to.
I keep talking of beauty in this book, and I think that’s an odd thing to do. The subject matter is dark, dark, numbingly so but then again I think that Wein’s gift really does lie in beauty. It’s something she found in Code Name Verity and it’s something she finds here; that ability to find grace and in friendship, and hope and love and belief that the people that have been shattered by the world matter. In that they make a difference. In the way that we all make a difference.
In a way, through shining a light on the story at the heart of Rose Under Fire, and through the hope that by telling this story this will never ever happen again, Wein reminds us that sometimes the most powerful weapon is our voice. And if you do not will Rose on by the end of this, turning the pages and hoping, just hoping that she will come back to us, then you are reading a different book than the one I held in my hands.
If you’re recommending or working with this book and young adults, I would suggest taking some time over the excellent afterword from Wein. In this she’s provided further resources that illustrate the awful truth that is behind this story. I would also draw your attention to Lydia Kokkola’s excellent Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature, something I discuss in a blog post here.